Councilman Calls for Review of Police Communication Network

The same night Officer Michael Johnson was fatally shot responding to a call for service, the computer network police use to communicate with each other shut down. Officers resorted to using congested radio channels, personal phones and even pen and paper.

"Any time the computer system goes down, it limits all aspects of what we do," Officer James Gonzales, vice president of the San Jose Police Officers' Association, told the Mercury News a couple days after the shooting. "It puts us back to literally a pencil-and-paper state of doing things. In a city this large, it's not an efficient way to work."

Evidently, it wasn't the first time the network lapsed in the thick of a crisis.

Councilman Raul Peralez, who was an officer in the San Jose Police Department before being elected to the council last fall, wants the city to conduct a thorough review of the glitchy mobile data terminals (called MDTs for short). In a memo submitted to today's Rules and Open Government Committee, he directs staff to find out how often the system malfunctions and what options are available to fix that.

Breakdowns in communication make it harder for police to protect the city, Peralez said.

"I often experienced these failures when I was a police officer," he states in his memo. "I believe the city has a responsibility to equip our police officers with proper equipment to ensure public safety as well as our officers' safety."

MDTs allow patrol officers to talk to each other, to dispatchers and the department. It allows them to look up vital information about suspects, use global-positioning to find other officers and upload criminal reports.

"The MDT's used by our officers have been a long-time problem," Peralez wrote.

Last fall, he said, SJPD Officer Christopher Proft raised the subject to Chief Larry Esquivel. He said the system often freezes up and has a slow, spotty internet connection.

"These issues directly affect response time to calls and the safety of the officer(s) requesting assistance," Peralez said. "Officer Proft's experiences resonate with me. When I served on San Jose's police force, it was not only frustrating but risky when a MDT would freeze on you before you could pull up a suspect's criminal records or find the location of a fellow officer via GPS, Going into a potentially dangerous situation blind endangers the lives of those calling for help as well as our men and women in uniform."

More from the San Jose Rules and Open Government Committee agenda for April 8, 2015:

  • To bring all the new council members up to speed on San Jose's relatively new marijuana regulatory program, the city will host an informational session on April 20. Yes, you read that right: that's 4/20, which also happens to be a stoner holiday.
  • San Jose may join a host of other jurisdictions in protesting Indiana's discriminatory new "religious liberty" law by banning all city-sponsored travel to the Hoosier state. "The city of San Jose should stand for fair treatment and equality for all residents," reads a memo signed by council members Peralez, Ash Kalra, Margie Matthews and Magdalena Carrasco. "When any city or state in our union makes efforts to curtail the equal rights under the law that all people are entitled to, it is incumbent upon us to stand up and speak out.
  • The city is so badly understaffed with building inspectors that the city relies on retired employees to work temporary assignments. Of the 17 authorized positions in the Building Division, only six are filled. Mayor Sam Liccardo's office has apparently been bombarded with calls from residents upset about the backlog of service. Liccardo said adjusting the pay grade could at least keep existing inspectors on staff, if not attract more people to apply for the position.
  • Councilman Don Rocha asks the city to support a pair of state bills that would require police officers to undergo more training on how to deal with mentally ill people. SB 11 and SB 29, both introduced by state Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose), propose upping the number of hours required for behavioral health training.

WHAT: Rules and Open Government Committee meets
WHEN: 2pm Wednesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is the News Editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

7 Comments

  1. “The city is so badly understaffed with building inspectors that the city relies on retired employees to work temporary assignments. Of the 17 authorized positions in the Building Division, only six are filled.” But apparently there’s a few hundred thousand dollars available to prop up a failing ballet; and who knows how many millions more between payroll for the Office of Cultural Affairs and the myriad arts groups it shells out tax dollars to, all while our roads degenerate to third world quality and folks remodeling which would result in a property tax reassessment wait for weeks to get inspections done by the understaffed building department. Hey Mayor and Council, you need a MAJOR reset of your priorities.

    • The city is losing a LOT of employees, overall. All staff is fleeing, not just PD. They should report to the public how many other departments have a shortage, just like this one. People would be astonished. Notice how they didn’t attempt to do anything until the public started bombarding sam’s office with complaints.

    • Really…you hammer public employees, but when there is a technology roadblock in front of them stopping them from doing good work, you’re all over it? Hypocrite.

  2. The MDT’s in the patrol cars are constantly crashing. The technology is at least 10 years outdated. The officers can access only a fraction of the criminal databases that could help them do their jobs. The GPS system is a joke. It can show you 1/4 mile away from where you actually are. Using the GPS system looks like using a crude version of an old video game. When officers write their reports in their cars on the computer. they need to contort their bodies in a completely unnatural posture, adding to back, neck, arm and wrist issues. Good for Raul for bringing this horrible situation to light.

    • And the reality is that the technology was “old ” when they bought this Canadian system. This has been there operating mode for years. Buy the cheapest piece of equipment on the front end because it saves money. In the end they end up spending more to keep updating an outdated system. They don’t care what the cost is “down the road” , They will never worry about that unless its pension predictions. Poor choices made by too many bean counters that have no knowledge of the systems and how the end user will be able to work with it. This has been SOP for so many years now. Laughable. SAM has a plan!

  3. There’s a reason SanJose was ranked One of the WORST run cities in the Country. One of the Richest cities the Country , BUT continues to blame employees for its MANY failures , corrupt Politicians that push illegal ballot measures ,Mayors that fire city employees for committing the same offense, illegal shifting of monies from fund to fund & then forgiving the loans ( leaving the taxpayer on the hook for the debt), unethical use of the media (the Merc), worst benefit and salary package for employees , while still demanding that they contribute upwards of 21% of their salaries to pension/benes. this City is quickly crumbling into a lost cause. People need to wake up and start paying attention